Official urges less reliance on contractors

Agency officials need to stake out more definitively the functions only government employees can perform and then build the acquisition workforce’s capabilities around them, a congressional procurement expert said recently.

Officials may need to rethink their policies on those functions because the traditional term “inherently governmental” hasn’t been applied appropriately enough, Peter Levine, general counsel at for the Senate Armed Services Committee, said at a conference held by the Coalition for Government Procurement. on May 28.

The general view of inherently governmental functions doesn’t provide the boundaries necessary in today’s environment, where contractors work side-by-side with federal employees, he said. It seems agencies designate inherently governmental functions as simply the final sign-off authority on a contract, but they allow contractors to handle work on projects up to that point, he said, adding that  such a definition may hurt agencies over the long term.

“You may have the final sign-off authority, but you may not have the knowledge and capability to understand what it is you’re signing off on,” he said. “You may have given up that governmental function even though technically you’ve maintained what you need to maintain.”

However, redefining the term  inherently governmental  won’t solve the problem by itself, Levine said. Instead, the government must draw lines around the core functions of a government official and build the federal workforce’s capabilities around them. he said, adding that pinpointing core capabilities is essential to ensure agencies have the knowledge and skills to do the job right on their own.


“We cannot be reliant on contractors to protect the taxpayer for us,” he said. “At the end of the day, we need to have government officials who will take responsibility for that.”

Although Levine said he isn’t opposed to delegating work to contractors, such as performing a study or market analysis, the line blurs when contractors work and attend meetings as if they are government officials. It becomes a particularly troubling problem because agencies can’t tell when they are relying on contractors because of the blurred lines, he added.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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